Friday, July 13, 2012

Notes on the Gospel of Matthew – Matthew 1:1

A couple weeks ago, I began an in-depth study of the Gospel of Matthew. Even though I've read this Gospel numerous times, I am constantly discovering aspects of the text that I've never noticed before. Over the next several weeks, I'll be sharing some of those discoveries.

My primary English translation for this study is the New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition. I am also using the Greek text of the Gospel so I can delve into the meanings and nuances of the original language. Further, I have been consulting several commentaries including those in The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible and The Navarre Bible as well as several resources available online and through e-Sword (free Bible study software available at I will cite my sources as necessary.

The notes I will be posting are by no means a thorough commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. They are merely facts and meditations I've found interesting and useful as I strive to grow closer to God by studying His Word.

Let's start with the very first verse of Matthew's Gospel: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Here's a transliteration from the Greek (a transliteration uses English letters to write Greek words): Biblios geneseōs Iēsou Christou huiou Dauid huiou Abraam.

There are a couple interesting things to notice about the Greek words. First, the word biblios, translated as “account” in the NRSV-CE, actually means “book.” It refers to the papyrus that was used for writing in the ancient world, and we get our English word “Bible” from this Greek term. Second, the word geneseōs is the possessive form of the word genesis. Look familiar? It can mean “genealogy,” as it is translated in the NRSV-CE, but it can also mean “source,” “origin,” “nativity,” or even “existence” or “life.”

So what we have could certainly be “An account of the genealogy of Jesus...” but it might also read “A book of the origin of Jesus...” or “A book of the life of Jesus...” This verse, then, might introduce the genealogy that follows, but it also might introduce the entire Gospel, which is, of course, a book about the life of Jesus Christ.

This verse also emphasizes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christos, or the Anointed One. In the Old Testament, priests, prophets, and kings were anointed with holy oil that signified their roles and symbolically cleansed and strengthened them so they could fulfill their duties. As the Messiah, the Anointed One, and the Christ of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is priest, prophet, and king, and He is anointed not by the oil of olives but by the supernatural oil that is the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the verse makes it clear that Jesus is a descendent (huios,“son,” or in this case great, great, great, etc. grandson) of King David and the patriarch Abraham. Both of these men entered into covenants (unconditional bonds of self-giving love) with God and both received a promise that someday God would enact a new covenant that would extend to the whole world. As the Messiah, Jesus did exactly that.

I'm merely scratching the surface of this verse. Anyone desiring more depth could study the term christos in all its Old and New Testament meanings; read about the lives of David and Abraham and take note of how they foreshadow or point to Jesus (a technique called typology); or search for parallels between the Book of Genesis (i.e., the first book of the Old Testament) and “A book of genesis of Jesus Christ...” (as the Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, begins). There are countless possibilities...and all from eight Greek words. Such is the depth and richness of the Word of God.

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